The Beginning Of The End
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Did We Just Witness The Last Great Black Friday Celebration Of American Materialism?

Black Friday - Photo by PowhuskuAmericans are going to spend more than 600 billion dollars this Christmas season, and on Friday we got to see our fellow citizens fight each other like rabid animals over foreign-made flat screen televisions and Barbie dolls.  As disgusting as this behavior is to many of us, there may soon come a time when we will all fondly remember these days.  Most Americans are completely unaware of what is currently happening in the financial world, but right now there are deeply troubling signs that we could be on the verge of another major global financial collapse.  If the next great economic downturn does strike in 2015, that could mean that we may have just witnessed the last great Black Friday celebration of American materialism.  As you read this, stock prices are approximately double the value that they should be, margin debt is hovering near all-time record highs, and the “too big to fail” banks are being far more reckless than they were just prior to the last major stock market implosion.  So many of the exact same patterns that we witnessed back in 2007 and 2008 are repeating right now, and as you will see below, this includes a horrifying crash in the price of oil.  Anyone with half a brain should be able to see the slow-motion financial train wreck that is unfolding right before our eyes.

Every year, it has been my tradition to write an article about the mini-riots that erupt in retail stores all around the country on Black Friday.  This year things were a bit calmer because so many stores opened up on Thanksgiving itself, but there was still plenty of chaos.  For example, in the video posted below you can see women viciously fighting one another over discounted lingerie and underwear…

But instead of launching into another diatribe about how we are committing national economic suicide by buying hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign-made goods with money that we do not have, I want to focus on what is coming next.

You see, I believe that in the not too distant future many of us will be wishing for the days when the debt-fueled U.S. economy was healthy enough for people to be wrestling with one another on the floor over good deals in our retail establishments.

The next great financial crash (which many have been anticipating for years) is rapidly approaching.  So many of the same things that happened last time are happening again.  As I noted above, this includes a crash in the price of oil.

In the months prior to the last stock market collapse, the price of oil began plummeting dramatically in the summer of 2008.  This was an “early warning signal” that something was deeply amiss in the financial world…

Oil Price 2007 - 2008

Many people assume that a lower price for oil is good for the economy, but the exact opposite is actually true.  The oil industry has become absolutely critical to the U.S. and Canadian economies.  And in recent years, the “shale oil boom” has been one of the only bright spots for the United States.  If the shale oil industry starts to fail because of lower prices, a lot of the boom areas all over the nation are going to go bust really quickly and a lot of the financial institutions that were backing these projects are going to feel an immense amount of pain.

Unfortunately for us, the “shale oil revolution” simply does not work at 80 dollars a barrel.

And it certainly does not work at 70 dollars a barrel.

As I write this, U.S. crude is sitting at about 66 dollars a barrel due to OPEC’s recent decision to not cut output.

That is the lowest price for U.S. crude since September 2009.

So just like we saw during the summer of 2008, crude oil prices are collapsing once again.  The chart below comes from the Federal Reserve, but it is a few days out of date.  Now that the price of crude is down to about 66 dollars, you have to imagine the price actually going below the bottom of this chart…

Oil Price 2013 - 2014

Needless to say, this price collapse is having a huge impact on the stock prices of oil companies.  The following information about what happened in the markets on Friday comes from Business Insider

Here were some of the biggest losers on Friday:

  • BP (BP), down 5%
  • Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A), down 6%
  • Total (TOT), down 5%
  • Statoil (STO), down 14%
  • Exxon Mobil (XOM), down 5%
  • ConocoPhillips (COP), down 9%
  • Marathon Oil (MRO), down 13%
  • Occidental Petroleum (OXY), down 7%
  • Anadarko Petroleum (APC), down 14%
  • Linn Energy (LINE), down 13%
  • Whiting Petroleum (WLL), down 28%
  • Oasis Petroleum (OAS), down 32%
  • Kodiak Oil & Gas (KOG), down 28%

And this list goes on.

But this could just be the beginning of the oil price declines.

The most powerful oil official in Russia believes that the price of oil could fall below $60 next year…

Russia’s most powerful oil official Igor Sechin said in an interview with an Austrian newspaper that oil prices could fall below $60 by mid-way through next year.

Sechin, chief executive of Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil producer, also said U.S. oil production would fall after 2025 and that an oil market council should be created to monitor prices, the same day the OPEC cartel met in Vienna and left its output targets unchanged.

“We expect that a fall in the price to $60 and below is possible, but only during the first half, or rather by the end of the first half (of next year),” Sechin told the Die Presse newspaper.

And one oil industry analyst just told CNBC that he believes that the price of oil could ultimately plunge as low as $35 a barrel…

“When you look at the second half of 2015, that’s when you see oil beginning to dwarf demand by about a million, a million and a half barrels a day,” he said. “Thirty-five dollars is a possibility if they don’t get an agreement next spring because that’s when the oil really starts to build and you can have a billion barrels of oil with really no place to put it.”

This comes at a time when there are already a whole host of signs that the global economy is slowing down.  Three of the ten largest economies on the planet have already slipped into recession, and the economic nightmare over in Europe just continues to get even worse.  In fact, we just learned that the unemployment rate in Italy has shot above 13 percent for the first time ever recorded.

In addition, it is important to remember that the “real economy” in the United States is in far worse shape than it was just prior to the last financial crash.  Just consider these numbers…

-In the United States today, the number of payday lending locations is greater than the number of McDonald’s and the number of Starbucks.

-One recent survey found that about 22 percent of all Americans have had to turn to a church food panty for assistance.

-This year, almost one out of every five households in the United States celebrated Thanksgiving on food stamps.

-The rate of government dependence in America is at an all-time high and approximately 60 percent of U.S. households get more in transfer payments from the government than they pay in taxes.

-According to a report that was just released by the National Center on Family Homelessness, the number of homeless children in the U.S. has soared to a new all-time record high of 2.5 million.

If things are this bad now, what are they going to look like after the next great financial crash?

And without a doubt, the next crash is coming.  Hopefully we have at least a couple more months of relative stability, but many experts are now urgently warning that time is quickly running out.

By this time next year, Black Friday may look a whole lot different than it does today.

 

Russia Is Doing It – Russia Is Actually Abandoning The Dollar

Vladimir PutinThe Russians are actually making a move against the petrodollar.  It appears that they are quite serious about their de-dollarization strategy.  The largest natural gas producer on the planet, Gazprom, has signed agreements with some of their biggest customers to switch payments for natural gas from U.S. dollars to euros.  And Gazprom would have never done this without the full approval of the Russian government, because the Russian government holds a majority stake in Gazprom.  There hasn’t been a word about this from the big mainstream news networks in the United States, but this is huge.  When you are talking about Gazprom, you are talking about a company that is absolutely massive.  It is one of the largest companies in the entire world and it makes up 8 percent of Russian GDP all by itself.  It holds 18 percent of the natural gas reserves of the entire planet, and it is also a very large oil producer.  So for Gazprom to make a move like this is extremely significant.

When Barack Obama decided to slap some meaningless economic sanctions on Russia a while back, he probably figured that the world would forget about them after a few news cycles.

But the Russians do not forget, and they certainly do not forgive.

At this point the Russians are turning their back on the United States, and that includes the U.S. dollar.

What you are about to read is absolutely stunning, and yet you have not heard about it from any major U.S. news source.  But what Gazprom is now doing has the potential to really shake up the global financial landscape.  The following is an excerpt from a news report by the ITAR-TASS news agency

Gazprom Neft had signed additional agreements with consumers on a possible switch from dollars to euros for payments under contracts, the oil company’s head Alexander Dyukov told a press conference.

Additional agreements of Gazprom Neft on the possibility to switch contracts from dollars to euros are signed. With Belarus, payments in roubles are agreed on,” he said.

Dyukov said nine of ten consumers had agreed to switch to euros.

And Gazprom is not the only big company in Russia that is moving away from the U.S. dollar.

According to RT, other large Russian corporations are moving to other currencies as well…

Russia will start settling more contracts in Asian currencies, especially the yuan, in order to lessen its dependence on the dollar market, and because of Western-led sanctions that could freeze funds at any moment.

Over the last few weeks there has been a significant interest in the market from large Russian corporations to start using various products in renminbi and other Asian currencies, and to set up accounts in Asian locations,” Pavel Teplukhin, head of Deutsche Bank in Russia, told the Financial Times, which was published in an article on Sunday.

Diversifying trade accounts from dollars to the Chinese yuan and other Asian currencies such as the Hong Kong dollar and Singapore dollar has been a part of Russia’s pivot towards Asian as tension with Europe and the US remain strained over Russia’s action in Ukraine.

And according to Zero Hedge, “expanding the use of non-dollar currencies” is one of the main things that major Russian banks are working on right now…

Andrei Kostin, chief executive of state bank VTB, said that expanding the use of non-dollar currencies was one of the bank’s “main tasks”. “Given the extent of our bilateral trade with China, developing the use of settlements in roubles and yuan [renminbi] is a priority on the agenda, and so we are working on it now,” he told Russia’s President Vladimir Putin during a briefing. “Since May, we have been carrying out this work.”

“There is nothing wrong with Russia trying to reduce its dependency on the dollar, actually it is an entirely reasonable thing to do,” said the Russia head of another large European bank. He added that Russia’s large exposure to the dollar subjects it to more market volatility in times of crisis. “There is no reason why you have to settle trade you do with Japan in dollars,” he said.

The entire country is undergoing a major financial conversion.

This is just staggering.

Meanwhile, Russians have been pulling money out of U.S. banks at an unprecedented pace

So in March, without waiting for the sanction spiral to kick in, Russians yanked their moolah out of US banks. Deposits by Russians in US banks suddenly plunged from $21.6 billion to $8.4 billion. They yanked out 61% of their deposits in just one month! They’d learned their lesson in Cyprus the hard way: get your money out while you still can before it gets confiscated.

For those that don’t think that all of this could hurt the U.S. economy or the U.S. financial system, you really need to go back and read my previous article entitled “De-Dollarization: Russia Is On The Verge Of Dealing A Massive Blow To The Petrodollar“.  The truth is that the U.S. economic system is extremely dependent on the financial behavior of the rest of the globe.

Because nearly everyone else around the rest of the planet uses our currency to trade with one another, that keeps the value of the U.S. dollar artificially high and it keeps our borrowing costs artificially low.

As Russia abandons the U.S. dollar that will hurt, but if other nations start following suit that could eventually cause a financial avalanche.

What we are witnessing right now is just a turning point.

The effects won’t be felt right away.  So don’t expect this to cause financial disaster next week or next month.

But this is definitely another element in the “perfect storm” that is starting to brew for the U.S. economy.

Yes, we have been living in a temporary bubble of false stability for a few years.  However, the long-term outlook has not gotten any better.  In fact, the long-term trends that are destroying our economic and financial foundations just continue to get even worse.

So enjoy the “good times” while you still can.

They certainly will not last too much longer.

Who Needs The United States? Not Russia And China

Vladimir PutinRussia and China have just signed what is being called “the gas deal of the century”, and the two countries are discussing moving away from the U.S. dollar and using their own currencies to trade with one another.  This has huge implications for the future of the U.S. economy, but the mainstream media in the United States is being strangely quiet about all of this.  For example, I searched CNN’s website to see if I could find something about this gas deal between Russia and China and I did not find anything.  But I did find links to “top stories” entitled “Celebs who went faux red” and “Adorable kid tugs on Obama’s ear“.  Is it any wonder why the mainstream media is dying?  If a particular story does not fit their agenda, they will simply ignore it.  But the truth is that this new agreement between Russia and China is huge.  It could end up fundamentally changing the global financial system, and not in a way that would be beneficial for the United States.

Russia and China had been negotiating this natural gas deal for ten years, and now it is finally done.  Russia is the largest exporter of natural gas on the entire planet, and China is poised to become the world’s largest economy in just a few years.  This new $400 billion agreement means that these two superpowers could potentially enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship for the next 30 years

Russia reached a $400 billion deal to supply natural gas to China through a new pipeline over 30 years, a milestone in relations between the world’s largest energy producer and the biggest consumer.

President Vladimir Putin is turning to China to bolster Russia’s economy as relations sour with the U.S. and European Union because of the crisis in Ukraine. Today’s accord, signed after more than a decade of talks, will allow state-run gas producer OAO Gazprom (GAZP) to invest $55 billion developing giant gas fields in eastern Siberia and building the pipeline, Putin said.

It’s an “epochal event,” Putin said in Shanghai after the contract was signed. Both countries are satisfied with the price, he said.

Of course countries sell oil and natural gas to each other all the time.  But what makes this deal such a potential problem for the U.S. is the fact that Russia and China are working on cutting the U.S. dollar out of the entire equation.  Just check out the following excerpt from a recent article in a Russian news source

Russia and China are planning to increase the volume of direct payments in mutual trade in their national currencies, according to a joint statement on a new stage of comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation signed during high-level talks in Shanghai on Tuesday.

“The sides intend to take new steps to increase the level and expansion of spheres of Russian-Chinese practical cooperation, in particular to establish close cooperation in the financial sphere, including an increase in direct payments in the Russian and Chinese national currencies in trade, investments and loan services,” the statement said.

In my recent article entitled “De-Dollarization: Russia Is On The Verge Of Dealing A Massive Blow To The Petrodollar“, I warned about what could happen if the petrodollar monopoly ends.  In the United States, our current standard of living is extremely dependent on the rest of the world continuing to use our currency to trade with one another.  If Russia starts selling natural gas to China without the U.S. dollar being involved, that would be a monumental blow to the petrodollar.  And if other nations started following the lead of Russia and China, that could result in an avalanche from which the petrodollar may never recover.

And it isn’t just the national governments of Russia and China that are discussing moving away from the U.S. dollar.  For example, the second largest bank in Russia just signed a deal with the Bank of China “to pay each other in domestic currencies”

VTB, Russia’s second biggest lender, has signed a deal with Bank of China, which includes an agreement to pay each other in domestic currencies.

“Under the agreement, the banks plan to develop their partnership in a number of areas, including cooperation on ruble and renminbi settlements, investment banking, inter-bank lending, trade finance and capital-markets transactions,” says the official VTB statement.

The deal underlines VTB Group’s growing interest in Asian markets and will help grow trade between Russia and China that are already close trading partners, said VTB Bank Management Board Vasily Titov.

You can almost feel the power of the U.S. dollar fading.

A few months ago, when I wrote about how China had announced that it no longer planned to stockpile more U.S. dollars, I speculated that it may be evidence that China planned to start making a big move away from the U.S. dollar.

Well, now China’s intentions have become even more clear.

The Chinese do not plan to allow the United States to indefinitely dominate the globe financially.  In the long run, the Chinese plan to be the ones calling the shots, and that means that the power of the U.S. dollar must decline.

These days, instead of piling up mountains of U.S. currency, China has started accumulating hard assets instead.  In the past, I have written about how China is rapidly stockpiling gold, and it turns out that the Chinese have also been very busy stockpiling oil as well

China is stockpiling oil for its strategic petroleum reserve at a record pace, intervening on a scale large enough to send a powerful pulse through the world crude market.

The move comes as tensions mount in the South China Sea and the West prepares possible oil sanctions against Russia over the crisis in eastern Ukraine. Analysts believe China is quietly building up buffers against a possible spike in oil prices or disruptions in supply.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said in its latest monthly report that China imported 6.81m barrels per day (bpd) in April, an all-time high.

Once upon a time, China was extremely dependent on the United States economically.  The same was true with most of the rest of the world.

But now economic power has shifted so dramatically that nations such as Russia and China are realizing that they don’t really need to be dependent on the United States any longer.

And with each passing year, the relationship between Russia and China is becoming stronger.  As Pepe Escobar recently observed, this emerging alliance is causing quite a bit of consternation in Washington…

And no wonder Washington is anxious. That alliance is already a done deal in a variety of ways: through the BRICS group of emerging powers (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa); at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Asian counterweight to NATO; inside the G20; and via the 120-member-nation Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Trade and commerce are just part of the future bargain. Synergies in the development of new military technologies beckon as well. After Russia’s Star Wars-style, ultra-sophisticated S-500 air defense anti-missile system comes online in 2018, Beijing is sure to want a version of it. Meanwhile, Russia is about to sell dozens of state-of-the-art Sukhoi Su-35 jet fighters to the Chinese as Beijing and Moscow move to seal an aviation-industrial partnership.

Meanwhile, the relationship that the U.S. has with both nations is quickly going sour.  The crisis in Ukraine has caused relations with Russia to drop to the lowest point since the end of the Cold War, and now China is deeply offended by charges that Chinese military officers have been involved in cyberspying on the United States

China on Tuesday warned the United States was jeopardizing military ties by charging five Chinese officers with cyberspying and tried to turn the tables on Washington by calling it “the biggest attacker of China’s cyberspace.”

China announced it was suspending cooperation with the United States in a joint cybersecurity task force over Monday’s charges that officers stole trade secrets from major American companies. The Foreign Ministry demanded Washington withdraw the indictment.

The testy exchange marked an escalation in tensions over U.S. complaints that China’s military uses its cyber warfare skills to steal foreign trade secrets to help the country’s vast state-owned industrial sector.

The divide between the East and the West is growing.

But the Obama administration has not figured out that we need the East more than they need us.

Right now, the number one U.S. export is U.S. dollars.  Our massively inflated standard of living is very heavily dependent on the rest of the world using our currency to trade with one another and lending it to us at super low interest rates.

If the rest of the world quits playing our game, our debt-based financial system will quickly fall apart.

Unfortunately, nobody in the Obama administration seems to have much understanding of global economics, and they will probably continue to antagonize Russia and China.

In the end, the consequences for antagonizing them could end up being far greater than any of us ever imagined.

De-Dollarization: Russia Is On The Verge Of Dealing A Massive Blow To The Petrodollar

The U.S. Dollar - Photo by Pen WaggenerIs the petrodollar monopoly about to be shattered?  When U.S. politicians started slapping economic sanctions on Russia, they probably never even imagined that there might be serious consequences for the United States.  But now the Russian media is reporting that the Russian Ministry of Finance is getting ready to pull the trigger on a “de-dollarization” plan.  For decades, virtually all oil and natural gas around the world has been bought and sold for U.S. dollars.  As I will explain below, this has been a massive advantage for the U.S. economy.  In recent years, there have been rumblings by nations such as Russia and China about the need to change to a new system, but nobody has really had a big reason to upset the status quo.  However, that has now changed.  The struggle over Ukraine has caused Russia to completely reevaluate the financial relationship that it has with the United States.  If it starts trading a lot of oil and natural gas for currencies other than the U.S. dollar, that will be a massive blow for the petrodollar, and it could end up dramatically changing the global economic landscape.

The fact that the Russian government has held a meeting to discuss “getting rid of the US dollar in Russian export operations” should be front page news on every mainstream news website in the United States.  That is how big this is.  But instead, we have heard nothing from the big mainstream news networks about this so far.  Instead, we have only heard about this from Russian news sources such as the Voice of Russia

Russian press reports that the country’s Ministry of Finance is ready to greenlight a plan to radically increase the role of the Russian ruble in export operations while reducing the share of dollar-denominated transactions. Governmental sources believe that the Russian banking sector is “ready to handle the increased number of ruble-denominated transactions”.

According to the Prime news agency, on April 24th the government organized a special meeting dedicated to finding a solution for getting rid of the US dollar in Russian export operations. Top level experts from the energy sector, banks and governmental agencies were summoned and a number of measures were proposed as a response for American sanctions against Russia.

The “de-dollarization meeting” was chaired by First Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Igor Shuvalov, proving that Moscow is very serious in its intention to stop using the dollar.

So will Russia go through with this?

After all, this wouldn’t just be a slap in the face.  This would essentially be like slamming an economic fist into our nose.

You see, Russia is not just a small player when it comes to trading oil and natural gas.  The truth is that Russia is the largest exporter of natural gas and the second largest exporter of oil in the world.

If Russia starts asking for payment in currencies other than the U.S. dollar, that will essentially end the monopoly of the petrodollar.

In order to do this, Russia will need trading partners willing to go along.  In the article quoted above, the Voice of Russia listed Iran and China as two nations that would potentially be willing to make the switch…

Of course, the success of Moscow’s campaign to switch its trading to rubles or other regional currencies will depend on the willingness of its trading partners to get rid of the dollar. Sources cited by Politonline.ru mentioned two countries who would be willing to support Russia: Iran and China. Given that Vladimir Putin will visit Beijing on May 20, it can be speculated that the gas and oil contracts that are going to be signed between Russia and China will be denominated in rubles and yuan, not dollars.

And the reality of the matter is that China has seemed ready to move away from the U.S. dollar for quite some time.  In a previous article, I included a quote from a French news source that discussed how China’s official news agency has even called for a “new international reserve currency… to replace the dominant US dollar”…

For decades the US has benefited to the tune of trillions of dollars-worth of free credit from the greenback’s role as the default global reserve unit.

But as the global economy trembled before the prospect of a US default last month, only averted when Washington reached a deal to raise its debt ceiling, China’s official Xinhua news agency called for a “de-Americanised” world.

It also urged the creation of a “new international reserve currency… to replace the dominant US dollar”.

For much more on what China is thinking, please see my previous article entitled “9 Signs That China Is Making A Move Against The U.S. Dollar“.

So why is the petrodollar so important?

Well, it creates a tremendous amount of demand for the U.S. dollar all over the globe.  Since everyone has needed it to trade with one another, that has created an endless global appetite for the currency.  That has kept the value of the dollar artificially high, and it has enabled us to import trillions of dollars of super cheap products from other countries.  If other nations stopped using the dollar to trade with one another, the value of the dollar would plummet dramatically and we would have to pay much, much more for the trinkets that we buy at the dollar store and Wal-Mart.

In addition, since the U.S. dollar is essentially the de facto global currency, this has also increased demand for our debt.  Major exporting nations such as China and Saudi Arabia end up with giant piles of our dollars.  Instead of just letting them sit there and do nothing, those nations often reinvest their dollars into securities that can rapidly be changed back into dollars if needed.  One of the most popular ways to do this has been to invest those dollars in U.S. Treasuries.  This has driven down interest rates on U.S. debt over the years and has enabled the U.S. government to borrow trillions upon trillions of dollars for next to nothing.

But if the rest of the world starts moving away from the U.S. dollar, all of this could change.

In order for our current standard of living to continue, it is absolutely imperative that everyone else around the globe continues to use our currency.

So if Russia really does pull the trigger on a “de-dollarization” strategy, that would be huge – especially if the rest of the planet started following their lead.

The U.S. economy is already teetering on the brink of another major downturn, and there are a whole host of indications that big trouble is on the horizon.  For much more on this, please see the article that I posted on Monday entitled “If Economic Cycle Theorists Are Correct, 2015 To 2020 Will Be Pure Hell For The United States“.

Just about the last thing that we need right now is for our petrodollar monopoly to be threatened.

It would be nice if things would calm down in Ukraine and the relationship between the United States and Russia could go back to normal.

Sadly, that does not appear likely any time soon.

In fact, the Ukrainian government has already admitted that “we are essentially at war“, and on Tuesday six Ukrainian soldiers were killed and eight were wounded in a convoy attack in eastern Ukraine.

The regions in eastern Ukraine that have just declared independence have given the government in Kiev until Wednesday to pull their forces out of eastern Ukraine or else face war.

If a full blown civil war does erupt in Ukraine, it is going to take this crisis to a completely new level.

Unfortunately, most Americans are incredibly apathetic at this point and know very little about what is going on.

But in the end, this could have dramatic implications for all of us.

Russia And China Stand In Agreement On Ukraine – And That Is Very Bad News For The United States

Vladimir_Putin_with_Zhang_DeguangSo much for “isolating” Russia.  The Chinese government is publicly siding with Russia on the crisis in Ukraine, and that is very bad news for the United States.  Not only does it mean that the U.S. is essentially powerless to do anything about the situation in Ukraine, it also means that Russia and China are starting to understand how much economic leverage that they really have.  Yes, the Obama administration can threaten to slap “sanctions” on Russia or threaten to kick Russia “out of the G8“, but those actions would not actually hurt too much.  On the other hand, Russia and China hold approximately 25 percent of all foreign-owned U.S. debt, and if they started massively dumping U.S. debt it could rapidly create a nightmare scenario.  In addition, it is important to remember that Russia is the largest exporter of natural gas and the second largest exporter of oil in the world.  And China now imports more oil than anyone else on the planet does, including the United States.  If Russia and China got together and decided to kill the petrodollar, they could do it almost overnight.  So when it comes to Ukraine, it is definitely not the United States that has the leverage.

If China and the rest of the world abandoned Russia over Ukraine, that would be one thing.  But that is not happening at all.  In fact, China has chosen to publicly stand with Russia on this issue.  The following is from a Sky News article entitled “Russia And China ‘In Agreement’ Over Ukraine“…

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov discussed Ukraine by telephone with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, on Monday, and claimed they had “broadly coinciding points of view” on the situation there, according to a ministry statement.

And Chinese state news agency Xinhua is publicly rebuking the West for their handling of the Ukrainian crisis…

China’s state news agency Xinhua accused western powers of adopting a Cold War- like mindset towards Russia, trying to isolate Moscow at a time when much needed mediation is need to reach a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Crimea.

“Based on the fact that Russia and Ukraine have deep cultural, historical and economic connections, it is time for Western powers to abandon their Cold War thinking. Stop trying to exclude Russia from the political crisis they failed to mediate, and respect Russia’s unique role in mapping out the future of Ukraine,” Xinhua wrote in an opinion piece.

Apparently clueless as to how the geopolitical chips are falling, the Obama administration is busy planning all sorts of ways that it can punish Russia

Behind the scenes, Obama administration officials are preparing a series of possible battle plans for a potential economic assault on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine, an administration source close to the issue told The Daily Beast. Among the possible targets for these financial attacks: everyone from high-ranking Russian military officials to government leaders to top businessmen to Russian-speaking separatists in Ukraine. It’s all part of the work to prepare an executive order now under consideration at the Obama administration’s highest levels.

Does the Obama administration really want to start an “economic war” with Russia and potentially against China as well?

Considering how much money we owe them, and considering the fact that we desperately need them to continue to use the petrodollar, we stand to lose far more than they do.

This is one of the reasons why I have always insisted that the national debt was a national security issue.  By going into so much debt, we have given other nations such as Russia and China a tremendous amount of leverage over us.

Unfortunately, the debtmongers in Washington D.C. never have listened to common sense.

When it comes to Ukraine, there are other economic considerations as well.

For example, about 25 percent of the natural gas that Europe uses comes from Russia, and Ukraine only has about four months of natural gas supplies stockpiled.

If Russia cut off the natural gas, that would create some huge problems.  Fortunately, winter is just about over or the Russians would have even more leverage.

In addition, Ukraine is one of the leading exporters of wheat and corn on the planet, and a disruption in the growing of those crops could make the emerging global food crisis even worse.

But of course the biggest concern is that the Ukraine crisis could ultimately spark a global war.

Unfortunately, there is a treaty that requires the United States to defend Ukraine if it is attacked…

President Bill Clinton, along with the British, signed in 1994 a nearly forgotten agreement to protect Ukraine’s borders. Ukraine now is appealing to the countries that signed the agreement.

As the British Daily Mail points out, it means that, technically, if Russia were to invade Ukraine, it would be difficult for the U.S. and Britain to avoid going to war.

Given that the late Russian president, Boris Yeltsin also signed it, it was apparent that it wasn’t expected that the Russians would take the action that Putin now is undertaking.

And top Ukrainian politicians are now asking western nations to come to the aid of Ukraine militarily

Ukraine’s former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko has appealed for the West to adopt ‘strongest means’ to intervene in Russia’s occupation of Crimea if diplomacy fails.

In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Tymoshenko, freed last week after the riots throughout the nation, said if Russia is allowed to ‘take away’ Crimea, life will change ‘practically everywhere in the world.’

She added: ‘Then we have to accept… an aggressor, can violate all the international agreements, take away territories, whenever she likes.’

On the other side, deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has formally requested that Russia militarily intervene in his nation…

Russia’s U.N. envoy said Monday that ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych asked Russia to send troops to “establish legitimacy, peace, law and order, stability, and defending the people of Ukraine.” Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin read a letter from Yanukovych at the U.N. Security Council meeting.

“Ukraine is on the brink of civil war. In the country, there is chaos and anarchy. The life, the security and the rights of people, particularly in the southeast part in Crimea are being threatened. So under the influence of Western countries, there are open acts of terrorism and violence. People are being persecuted for language and political reasons,” the letter said. “So in this regard, I would call on the President of Russia, Mr. Putin, asking him to use the armed forces of the Russian Federation to establish legitimacy, peace, law and order, stability, and defending the people of Ukraine.”

And it is very important to note that Yanukovych would have never issued this letter if the Russian government has not asked him to.

So the stage is set.

Russia has already grabbed Crimea, and it is eyeing other territories in eastern Ukraine.

China is publicly backing Russia, and collectively they have a tremendous amount of economic leverage.

The Obama administration is barking loudly about what Russia has done, but the reality is that the U.S. has very little economic leverage at this point.

What the U.S. does have is the strongest military on the entire planet, but let us hope and pray that Obama does not decide to get the U.S. military involved in Ukraine.  That would be absolutely disastrous.

In the end, the U.S. has no good options in Ukraine.  The Obama administration helped aid and organize the violent revolution that overthrew the Ukrainian government, and now we have a giant mess.

Nobody is quite sure what comes next, but one thing is certain…

The relationship between the United States and Russia will never, ever be the same again.

The Growing Rift With Saudi Arabia Threatens To Severely Damage The Petrodollar

Are You Ready For The Death Of The Petrodollar - Photo By RevisorwebThe number one American export is U.S. dollars.  It is paper currency that is backed up by absolutely nothing, but the rest of the world has been using it to trade with one another and so there is tremendous global demand for our dollars.  The linchpin of this system is the petrodollar.  For decades, if you have wanted to buy oil virtually anywhere in the world you have had to do so with U.S. dollars.  But if one of the biggest oil exporters on the planet, such as Saudi Arabia, decided to start accepting other currencies as payment for oil, the petrodollar monopoly would disintegrate very rapidly.  For years, everyone assumed that nothing like that would happen any time soon, but now Saudi officials are warning of a “major shift” in relations with the United States.  In fact, the Saudis are so upset at the Obama administration that “all options” are reportedly “on the table”.  If it gets to the point where the Saudis decide to make a major move away from the petrodollar monopoly, it will be absolutely catastrophic for the U.S. economy.

The biggest reason why having good relations with Saudi Arabia is so important to the United States is because the petrodollar monopoly will not work without them.  For decades, Washington D.C. has gone to extraordinary lengths to keep the Saudis happy.  But now the Saudis are becoming increasingly frustrated that the U.S. military is not being used to fight their wars for them.  The following is from a recent Daily Mail report

Upset at President Barack Obama’s policies on Iran and Syria, members of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family are threatening a rift with the United States that could take the alliance between Washington and the kingdom to its lowest point in years.

Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief is vowing that the kingdom will make a ‘major shift’ in relations with the United States to protest perceived American inaction over Syria’s civil war as well as recent U.S. overtures to Iran, a source close to Saudi policy said on Tuesday.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan told European diplomats that the United States had failed to act effectively against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was growing closer to Tehran, and had failed to back Saudi support for Bahrain when it crushed an anti-government revolt in 2011, the source said.

Saudi Arabia desperately wants the U.S. military to intervene in the Syrian civil war on the side of the “rebels”.  This has not happened yet, and the Saudis are very upset about that.

Of course the Saudis could always go and fight their own war, but that is not the way that the Saudis do things.

So since the Saudis are not getting their way, they are threatening to punish the U.S. for their inaction.  According to Reuters, the Saudis are saying that “all options are on the table now”…

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, ploughs much of its earnings back into U.S. assets. Most of the Saudi central bank’s net foreign assets of $690 billion are thought to be denominated in dollars, much of them in U.S. Treasury bonds.

“All options are on the table now, and for sure there will be some impact,” the Saudi source said.

Sadly, most Americans have absolutely no idea how important all of this is.  If the Saudis break the petrodollar monopoly, it would severely damage the U.S. economy.  For those that do not fully understand the importance of the petrodollar, the following is a good summary of how the petrodollar works from an article by Christopher Doran

In a nutshell, any country that wants to purchase oil from an oil producing country has to do so in U.S. dollars. This is a long standing agreement within all oil exporting nations, aka OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. The UK for example, cannot simply buy oil from Saudi Arabia by exchanging British pounds. Instead, the UK must exchange its pounds for U.S. dollars. The major exception at present is, of course, Iran.

This means that every country in the world that imports oil—which is the vast majority of the world’s nations—has to have immense quantities of dollars in reserve. These dollars of course are not hidden under the proverbial national mattress. They are invested. And because they are U.S. dollars, they are invested in U.S. Treasury bills and other interest bearing securities that can be easily converted to purchase dollar-priced commodities like oil. This is what has allowed the U.S. to run up trillions of dollars of debt: the rest of the world simply buys up that debt in the form of U.S. interest bearing securities.

This arrangement works out very well for the United States because we can wildly print money and run up gigantic amounts of debt and the rest of the world gobbles it all up.

In 2012, the United States ran a trade deficit of about $540,000,000,000 with the rest of the planet.  In other words, about half a trillion more dollars left the country than came into the country.  These dollars represent the number one “product” that the U.S. exports.  We make dollars and exchange them for the things that we need.  Major exporting countries (such as Saudi Arabia) take many of those dollars and “invest” them in our debt at ultra-low interest rates.  It is this system that makes our massively inflated standard of living possible.

When this system ends, the era of cheap imports and super low interest rates will be over and the “adjustment” to our standard of living will be excruciatingly painful.

And without a doubt, the day is rapidly approaching when the petrodollar monopoly will end.

Today, Russia is the number one exporter of oil in the world.

China is now the number one importer of oil in the world, and at this point they are actually importing more oil from Saudi Arabia than the United States is.

So why should Russia, China and virtually everyone else continue to be forced to use U.S. dollars to trade oil?

That is a very good question.

In fact, China has been making a whole lot of noise recently about the fact that it is time to start becoming less dependent on the U.S. dollar.  The following comes from a recent CNBC article authored by Michael Pento

Our addictions to debt and cheap money have finally caused our major international creditors to call for an end to dollar hegemony and to push for a “de-Americanized” world.

China, the largest U.S. creditor with $1.28 trillion in Treasury bonds, recently put out a commentary through the state-run Xinhua news agency stating that, “Such alarming days when the destinies of others are in the hands of a hypocritical nation have to be terminated.”

For much more on all of this, please see my previous article entitled “9 Signs That China Is Making A Move Against The U.S. Dollar“.

But you very rarely hear anything about this on the evening news, and most Americans do not understand these things at all.  The fact that the U.S. produces the de facto reserve currency of the planet is an absolutely massive advantage for us.  According to John Mauldin, this advantage allows us to consume far more wealth than we actually produce…

What that means in practical terms is that the United States can purchase more with its currency than it produces and sells. In theory those accounts should balance. But the world’s reserve currency, for all intent and purposes, becomes a product. The world needs dollars in order to conduct its trade. Today, if someone in Peru wants to buy something from Thailand, they first convert their local currency into US dollars and then purchase the product with those dollars. Those dollars eventually wind up at the Central Bank of Thailand, which includes them in its reserve balance. When someone in Thailand wants to purchase an imported product, their bank accesses those dollars, which may go anywhere in the world that will take the US dollar, which is to say pretty much anywhere.

And as Mauldin went on to explain in that same article, a significant amount of the money that we ship out to the rest of the globe ends up getting reinvested in U.S. government debt…

That privilege allows US citizens to purchase goods and services at prices somewhat lower than those people in the rest of the world must pay. We can produce electronic fiat dollars, and the rest of the world accepts them because they need them to in order to trade with each other. And they do so because they trust the dollar more than they do any other currency that is readily available. You can take those dollars and come to the United States and purchase all manner of goods, including real estate and stocks. Just this week a Chinese company spent $600 million to buy a building in New York City. Such transactions happen all the time.

And there is one other item those dollars are used to pay for: US Treasury bonds. We buy oil and all manner of goods with our electronic dollars, and those dollars typically end up on the reserve balance sheets of other central banks, which buy our government bonds. It’s hard to quantify the exact amount, but these transactions significantly lower the cost of borrowing for the US government. On a $16 trillion debt, every basis point (1/10 of 1%) means a saving of $16 billion annually. So 5 basis points would be $80 billion a year. There are credible estimates that the savings are well in excess of $100 billion a year. Thus, as the debt grows, the savings also grow! That also means the total debt compounds at a lower rate.

Unfortunately, this system only works if the rest of the planet has faith in it, and right now the United States is systematically destroying the faith that the rest of the world has in our financial system.

One way that this is being done is by our reckless accumulation of debt.  The U.S. national debt is now 37 times larger than it was 40 years ago, and we are on pace to accumulate more new debt under the 8 years of the Obama administration than we did under all of the other presidents in U.S. history combined.  The rest of the world is watching this and they are beginning to wonder if we are going to be able to pay them back the money that we owe them.

Quantitative easing is another factor that is severely damaging worldwide faith in the U.S. financial system.  The rest of the globe is watching as the Federal Reserve wildly prints up money and monetizes our debt.  They are beginning to wonder why they should continue to loan us gobs of money at super low interest rates when we are beginning to resemble the Weimar Republic.

The long-term damage that we are doing to the “U.S. brand” far, far outweighs any short-term benefits of quantitative easing.

And as Richard Koo has brilliantly demonstrated, quantitative easing is going to cause long-term interest rates to eventually rise much higher than they normally should have.

What all of this means is that the U.S. government and the Federal Reserve are systematically destroying the financial system that has enabled us to enjoy such a high standard of living for the past several decades.

Yes, the U.S. economy is not doing well at the moment, but we haven’t seen anything yet.  When the monopoly of the petrodollar is broken, it is going to be absolutely devastating.

And as I wrote about the other day, when the next great economic crisis strikes it is going to pull back the curtain and reveal the rot and decay that have been eating away at the social fabric of America for a very long time.

Just check out what happened in Detroit recently.  The new police chief was almost carjacked while he was sitting in a clearly marked police vehicle…

Just four months on the job, Detroit’s new police chief got an early taste of the city’s hardscrabble streets.

While in his patrol car at an intersection on Jefferson two weeks ago, Police Chief James Craig was nearly carjacked, police spokeswoman Kelly Miner confirmed today.

Craig said he was in a marked police car with mounted lights when a man quickly tried to approach the side of his car. Craig, who became police chief in June, retold the story Monday during a program designed to crack down on carjackings.

Isn’t that crazy?

These days, the criminals are not even afraid to go after the police while they are sitting in their own vehicles.

And this is just the beginning.  Things are going to get much, much worse than this.

So let us hope that this period of relative stability that we are enjoying right now will last for as long as possible.

The times ahead are going to be extremely challenging, and I hope that you are getting ready for them.

Will War With Syria Cause The Price Of Oil To Explode Higher?

F-16 Photo by TMWolfAre you ready to pay four, five or possibly even six dollars for a gallon of gasoline?  War has consequences, and a conflict with Syria has the potential to escalate wildly out of control very rapidly.  The Obama administration is pledging that the upcoming attack on Syria will be “brief and limited” and that the steady flow of oil out of the Middle East will not be interrupted.  But what happens if Syria strikes back?  What happens if Syrian missiles start raining down on Tel Aviv?  What happens if Hezbollah or Iran starts attacking U.S. or Israeli targets?  Unless Syria, Hezbollah and Iran all stand down and refuse to fight back, we could very easily be looking at a major regional war in the Middle East, and that could cause the price of oil to explode higher.  Syria is not a major oil producer, but approximately a third of all of the crude oil in the world is produced in the Middle East.  If the Suez Canal or the Persian Gulf (or both) get shut down for an extended period of time, the consequences would be dramatic.  The price of oil has already risen about 15% so far this summer, and war in the Middle East could potentially send it soaring into record territory.

We can always hope that cooler heads prevail and that a conflict is avoided, but at this point it does not look like that is going to happen.  In fact, according to Richard Engel of NBC News, a senior U.S. official has admitted that “we’re past the point of return” and that a strike on Syria can be expected within days.

Obama is promising that the U.S. will “take limited, tailored approaches”, and that we will not be “getting drawn into a long conflict, not a repetition of, you know, Iraq, which I know a lot of people are worried about”, but how in the world can he guarantee that?

Syria, Iran and Hezbollah have all threatened to attack Israel if the U.S. attacks Syria.

If missiles start raining down on Israeli cities, the Israelis are not just going to sit there and take it like they did during the first Gulf War.  In fact, according to the Los Angeles Times, “Israeli leaders are making it clear that they have no intention of standing down this time if attacked”.

If Israel is attacked, their military response will be absolutely massive.

And then we will have the major regional war in the Middle East that so many people have been warning about for so many years.  Hundreds of thousands of people will die and the global economy will be paralyzed.

So what will Obama do in such a situation?

Will he pack up and go home?

Of course not.  We would be committed to fighting a brutal, horrific war that there was absolutely no reason to start in the first place.

And we are already starting to feel the effect of rising tensions in the Middle East.  This week, the price of oil rose to a 10-month high

U.S. oil prices soared to an 18-month high as traders worried that a potential military strike against Syria could disrupt the region’s oil supplies.

October crude futures surged 2.9%, to $109.01 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, their highest close since February 2012. Brent futures ended up 3.2% at $114.28 a barrel, a six-month high.

Posted below is a chart that shows how the price of oil has moved over the past several decades.  Could we soon break the all-time record of $147 a barrel that was set back in 2008?…

The Price Of Oil

And of course we all remember what happened when the price of oil got that high back in 2008.  The global economy was plunged into the worst downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

A major conflict in the Middle East, especially if it goes on for an extended period of time, could send the price of oil to absolutely ridiculous levels.

Every single day, a massive amount of oil is moved through the Suez Canal.  The following is from a recent Wall Street Journal article

To the southwest is the Suez Canal, one such chokepoint, which connects the Red Sea and the Gulf of the Suez with the Mediterranean Sea. The canal transports about 800,000 barrels of crude and 1.4 million barrels of petroleum products daily, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Another regional oil shipping route potentially threatened by the Syria crisis is the Sumed, or Suez-Mediterranean, pipeline, also in Egypt, which moves oil from the Persian Gulf region to the Mediterranean. The Sumed handles 1.7 million barrels of crude oil per day, the EIA said.

And of course an enormous amount of oil moves through the Persian Gulf each day as well.  If the Suez Canal and/or the Persian Gulf were to be shut down, there would almost immediately be global supply problems.

So how high could the price of oil go?

Well, according to CNBC, some analysts believe that $150 a barrel could easily be hit if the U.S. attacks Syria…

Some analysts believe even U.S. crude, West Texas Intermediate (WTI crude) could get close to the $150 zone. “If oil prices spike on the Syria attack, and surge above $120, the next logical upside target is going to be the 2008 high of $147, which could easily be taken out,” said John Kilduff of Again Capital. “It’s the retaliation to the retaliation that we have to be worried about.”

If the price of oil soars up to that level and keeps going, we could see the price of gasoline go up to four, five or maybe even six dollars a gallon in some areas of the country.

You better start saving up lots of gas money.

It looks like you are going to need it.

The Rise Of The Bear: 18 Signs That Russia Is Rapidly Catching Up To The United States

RussiaThe Russian Bear is stronger and more powerful than it has ever been before.  Sadly, most Americans don’t understand this.  They still think of Russia as an “ex-superpower” that was rendered almost irrelevant when the Cold War ended.  And yes, when the Cold War ended Russia was in rough shape.  I got the chance to go over there in the early nineties, and at the time Russia was an economic disaster zone.  Russian currency was so worthless that I joked that I could go exchange a 20 dollar bill and buy the Kremlin.  But since that time Russia has roared back to life.  Once Vladimir Putin became president, the Russian economy started to grow very rapidly.  Today, Russia is an economic powerhouse that is blessed with an abundance of natural resources.  Their debt to GDP ratio is extremely small, they actually run a trade surplus every year, and they have the second most powerful military on the entire planet.  Anyone that underestimates Russia at this point is making a huge mistake.  The Russian Bear is back, and today it is a more formidable adversary than it ever was at any point during the Cold War.

Just check out the following statistics.  The following are 18 signs that Russia is rapidly catching up to the United States…

#1 Russia produces more oil than anyone else on the planet.  The United States is in third place.

#2 Russia is the number two oil exporter in the world.  The United States is forced to import more oil than anyone else in the world.

#3 Russia produces more natural gas than anyone else on the planet.  The United States is in second place.

#4 Today, Russia supplies 34 percent of Europe’s natural gas needs.

#5 The United States has a debt to GDP ratio of 101 percent.  Russia has a debt to GDP ratio of about 8 percent.

#6 The United States had a trade deficit of more than half a trillion dollars last year.  Russia consistently runs a large trade surplus.

#7 The United States has an unemployment rate of 7.4 percent.  Russia has an unemployment rate of 5.4 percent.

#8 Since Vladimir Putin first became president of Russia, the Russian economy has grown at a very rapid pace.  The following is from Wikipedia

Under the presidency of Vladimir Putin Russia’s economy saw the nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP) double, climbing from 22nd to 11th largest in the world. The economy made real gains of an average 7% per year (1999: 6.5%, 2000: 10%, 2001: 5.7%, 2002: 4.9%, 2003: 7.3%, 2004: 7.2%, 2005: 6.4%, 2006: 8.2%, 2007: 8.5%, 2008: 5.2%), making it the 6th largest economy in the world in GDP(PPP). In 2007, Russia’s GDP exceeded that of 1990, meaning it has overcome the devastating consequences of the recession in the 1990s.

During Putin’s eight years in office, the industry grew by 75%, investments increased by 125%, and agricultural production and construction increased as well. Real incomes more than doubled and the average salary increased eightfold from $80 to $640. The volume of consumer credit between 2000–2006 increased 45 times, and during that same time period, the middle class grew from 8 million to 55 million, an increase of 7 times. The number of people living below the poverty line also decreased from 30% in 2000 to 14% in 2008.

#9 According to Bloomberg, Russia has added 570 metric tons of gold to their reserves over the past decade.  In the United States, nobody seems to be quite sure how much gold the Federal Reserve actually has left.

#10 Moscow is the second most expensive city in the world.  Meanwhile, the United States actually has the unfriendliest city in the world (Newark, New Jersey).

#11 More billionaires live in Moscow than in any other city on the globe.

#12 The Moscow metro system completely outclasses the subway systems in Washington D.C. and New York City.

#13 The United States has the most powerful military on the planet, but Russia is in second place.

#14 Russia has introduced a new “near silent” nuclear submarine which is far more quiet than anything the U.S. has…

The Borey Class submarine, dubbed Vladimir Monomakh, has a next generation nuclear reactor, can dive deeper than 1,200 feet, and carries up to 20 nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM).

Each of these “Bulava” ICBM’s can carry ten detachable MIRV warheads, what they call “re-entry vehicles,” capable of delivering 150 kiloton yields per warhead

#15 While Barack Obama is neutering the U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal, Vladimir Putin is working hard to modernize Russian nuclear forces.

#16 Russian missile forces will hold more than 200 drills during the second half of 2013.

#17 Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made headlines all over the world when he climbed into the cockpit of Russia’s new “fifth generation” fighter jet and announced that it was far superior to the F-22 Raptor.

#18 It is estimated that Russia has more spies inside the United States today than it did at any point during the Cold War.

Unfortunately, whenever I write an article about Russia I find that most people simply do not get it.  They will make statements such as “the Cold War is over” or “Russia is our friend” which show a complete and total lack of understanding of the current geopolitical situation.

Russia has been steadily building a stronger relationship with China, and collectively they represent the number one strategic threat to the United States.

Someday this will become abundantly clear to the American people.  Hopefully it will not be too late by the time they realize it.

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